Posted by: coachingparents | September 1, 2008


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

Yesterday, a very unhappy husband called me and bemoaned, “I tried
my hardest to help my wife.  She is so afraid to try anything new.  I
only want to help her become less scared.”

We describe the healthcare profession as a “helping” profession.  I
like to think in my life coaching profession, I “help” others to
create the outcomes in their lives they truly want.

For the past 13 years, I have been a member of a “service club”
(Rotary) whose motto is “service above self.”  I began to think of the
differences between helping others and being of service to them or
serving them.

Serving others is quite different than helping them.  When you help
someone, you are functioning from a position of greater power.  You
have information, a skill or abilities that the person you are helping
does not.  Your helping position is one of greater ability than
theirs.  It is a position of inequality. You are stronger than the
person you are helping who has lesser strength. Others sense this
unequal relationship. Being aware of this inequality helps you to
understand why the fearful wife resents, or rebels against, the
husband who “is only trying to help” her.

When I “help” someone else, I may be inadvertently diminishing their
self-confidence, their belief in themselves or their self-esteem. 
Every nurse who has ever helped a patient, has experienced the
patient’s resentment at being helped.  Having someone help you roll
over in bed does very little to build your confidence in your own
ability to roll over.  Some patient “helpers” become victims
themselves of an angry patient’s resistance to treatment, resistance
to being fed, anger at being poked, jabbed or held down…even for
their own good or safety.

Helping often incurs obligation.  When you help somebody, they “owe
you one.”  Guilt is resentment over perceived and unwanted
obligations.  When I allow someone to help me, I might feel obligated
to return the favor and guilty if I don’t.  Helping others invites
them to feel guilty as the recipient of your help.

Helping can also be controlling of others.  If I attempt to fix
somebody else through my helping, it implies judging them to be broken
in some way and unable to fix themselves.  Rachel Naomi Remen, Medical
Director of Commonweal Cancer Help Program, writes: “In fixing there
is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral

By contrast, “service” is a relationship between equals.  It is
mutual.  I am benefited by the person I am serving.  Serving is
responding to and collaborating with one another.

Mother Teresa is the shining example of service.  She connects with
and involves herself with those she serves.  She does not attempt to
“fix them.”  Rather, she serves them.  I believe healing others only
occurs through the service we render to them.  And in that service, we
also are healed.  It is in the relationship, the connection we have
with those whom we serve, that any kind of healing occurs.

Many in the helping professions help without serving.  Many others
fix without serving.  Spouses and parents try and help without
realizing their helpfulness may not serve the best interests of the

Remen writes, “Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of
life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown
purpose.  When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that
purpose.  When you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see
life as broken.  When you serve, you see life whole.”  May we each
seek “service above self.”  In doing so we are healed, made whole, and
experience life as complete.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life
coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of
Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams)
the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and
Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!”

Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and
Licensed Psychologist.  He is available for coaching in any area
presented in “Practical Psychology.”  Initial coaching sessions are



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